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Alibaba’s HeMa Department Store: data, eCommerce, Chinese Retail

by Steve Stine

To celebrate the retail craziness that arrives in each November in North America, we bring you an episode focused on the most overtly commercial day of the year in China – Singles Day!

Singles Day started in the 1990s as a quirky “why buy for others when you can buy for yourself” online sales phenomena. In 2005, the Chinese eCommerce giant, Alibaba, picked up on the idea. Other eCommerce players soon jumped onboard and the results are hard to believe: $25.3 billion in online sales in one 24-hour period—a 40% increase over last year. To put these numbers in perspective: Singles Day grosses five times more spending than US’ biggest retail events, Black Friday and CyberMonday combined.

To get a handle on what’s going on in Chinese retail, we paid a visit to Alibaba’s HeMa Department story, a high-tech, cashless, and mobile-enabled store that might just revolutionize the shopping experience.

It was an eye-opening, hilarious experience. The place is not quite fully deployed, but it’s getting there.

In ways once thought unimaginable, the Chinese customer has become the most digitally astute in the world. Sleek mobile apps, elegant micropayment services and service ubiquity are all day-to-day enablers tailored for Chinese buyers. QR codes are as familiar to an 80-year old woman selling vegetables from a street stall as they are to social media savvy millennials.

At the heart of it all, of course, is data. As is the case with online shopping, every touch of the mobile phone keypad is captured by Alibaba. Shopping patterns, habits, purchasing decisions, even product rejections are analyzed.

Too Big Brother for you?  Not so sure you like the idea of drones and robots entering your home and restocking your fridge Will consumers in North America and Europe embrace this new mode of shopping and transaction with gusto the way the Chinese have?

Hard to say. Jack Ma is betting on it. 

You can take a video tour of the HeMa store HERE and see for yourself how online and offline shopping is being merged.